The doctor, a sweet, energetic Indian man working at my local Urgent Care facility, stared at the film.
At first, we couldn’t see the thin line which gave away what I’d done to my pinky toe.
Bad news? A fracture. Good news? It’ll heal. Buddy tape, boot, and stay off the damned thing.
But we saw something else.
There was a bone callus that had formed on the right metatarsal bone.
Fully healed. But fractured. It had been recent.
I knew when, too. Its twin was on my left. But I honestly hadn’t known that I’d done that much damage.
Summer of last year I’d taken a four-week extreme horse riding adventure in the Muskwa-Kechika Wilderness of Northern British Columbia. I’d purchased a pair of Muck Boots, which were primarily for riding and possibly walking around the camp in rain.
What happened, which I’d not planned, was that I ended up wearing those boots and hiking in them. Sometimes most of the day, four to six hours at a time, on very steep slopes, up and down. Really steep and difficult terrain, in fact. Real wilderness.
In that way that you and I make tactical errors in judgment, I failed to transfer my orthotics to the Muck Boots, and left them in my leather riding boots which were transferred to, and lived in, the panniers.
I had no idea at the time what I was doing to my poor dogs.
The foot is a fascinating body part.
Each foot in a normal human has 26 bones, one less than in our hands. They are complex feats of engineering. Our big toes, which are critical to balance, used to be used for tree climbing, and can stand in for a thumb if we happen to decide to stick our hand inside a lawn mower while it’s still running.
People do that.
We started wearing shoes about 40,000 years ago. Back when we started, it’s highly unlikely that the then-equivalent of Michael Jordan was charging $560k for a pair of sneakers. But then, we’re stupid these days.
Which I was, too, for not putting my orthotics in my Muck Boots.
Said Muck boots are completely flat inside, being designed primarily — and I say this with love- for my Canuck friends to the North to pad around in the mud and snow.
They aren’t made for extreme hiking, all day long, every day for two weeks.
I have abnormally high arches. Always have. They can make fitting shoes a real problem. They aren’t, as in some cases, indicative of a neurological disorder, but uber-high arches can lead to gait problems. I’ve had them.
For years I resisted the advice of my sports chiro, despite knee, hip and ankle complaints. Orthotics can be damned expensive.
ARE expensive. When I finally decided to take better care of myself, the custom pair cost me $650. Yeowza.
AND they made a massive difference. Gone were the knee and hip pain. It took a few weeks to get accustomed to the bulk in my shoes. But they worked.
By the time I finally invested in foot care I was in my sixties. Years of running, hiking, climbing, sports. My aging body was immensely grateful and paid me back with less pain. Fewer knee and hip complaints. Sigh. Thank you.
That I would forget, or simply be too distracted to transfer those orthotics to my Mud Boots, well. Look. I’m human. The problem is, so are my feet.
About mid-way through the trip when the second expedition began at a remote Canadian lake, my feet were beginning to bark at me. I didn’t know at the time that the second two week trip(clients sign up for two weeks, I did four, which is very rare due to the difficulty) was going to mean much more walking.
You pays your money, you takes your chances.
The pain began right away. Got worse. Then a LOT worse. I motored on, as there is no way to stop or see a doctor. You just keep walking, hiking and riding. After a while, the pain became a daily background noise.
Loud, mind you, but I didn’t have much choice. Well, okay, you’re right. Of course I could have put the damned orthotics into the Muck Boots but by day’s end I was so fricking tired I was comatose. As were we all.
At night I would massage my feet with muscle cream. Take Tylenol during the day. I had no idea what was really happening. Go to sleep. Forget about things. Next day, rinse, repeat.
By trip’s end I could barely walk.
That’s called feedback.
Interestingly the other piece of feedback that I got was when I returned home and put on my regular Hokas complete with orthotics.
My feet screamed bloody murder.
The Muck Boots, along with the weeks of extreme hiking, had broken and reformed my feet.
Suddenly I had real empathy for too many Chinese women.
For any student of Chinese history, the business of bound feet is a history of terrible torture for baby girls. Their feet were bound to deform them into tiny balls, called Lotus Feet.
My experience with the fractures gave me a whole new insight into the horrific pain these girls endured to please Chinese men. They crippled themselves.
Interestingly, my mother did the same thing. She wore heels that came to a sharp point in front, permanently distorting her toes into overlapping piano keys, and condemning her to a life time of pain and shuffling her painful feet on the floor as she walked. All for fashion.
I sought help from the VA podiatry clinic, which didn’t bother to take an x-ray. Of course they didn’t. In that unfortunate way that so many docs at the VA treat women of an age, they didn’t understand that a 66-year-old woman might also be an athlete. So they treated the pain like a minor issue.
It wasn’t. As I saw on the film that the Indian doctor and I were peering at, it was not at all a minor issue. The fracture was VERY clear.
No wonder my dogs were barking at me.
They were broken. Fractured.
What I learned: out in the M-K, there is only one way, and that’s through. You can be airlifted out if you have a serious enough emergency, but you still have to get your way to that remote airstrip. The M-K is accessible only by horse, foot, boat or plane. The planes fly in high-end hunting parties to remote lodges, and in our case, they deliver and take out riders along the long, remote routes.
I didn’t have any idea how serious the injuries were. As with so many of us, when we feel pain, we motor on, blissfully ignorant of the damage we’re doing.
I love me my stilettos
When I worked in the corporate world, for years I was known among my friends as the shoe lady. I had no less than 250 pairs of shoes and boots. I loved platforms. The older I got the higher they got. Until.
One day my speaking coach pointed out to me, on video, how those beautiful shoes made me walk like a drunk camel.
He was right.
They were damaging my spine and likely my feet. Can’t wear my orthotics in a a pair of six-inch platform sandals.
But at least I’m not Lady Gaga:
Those are an excellent way to truly break a leg onstage.
Yet I still managed to break a foot (or two) out in the wilderness.
Look, stilettos may be sexy. But there’s nothing sexy about crippling ourselves to the point we can’t walk or run or play.
While I have sold, donated or given away most of my stilettos, that stress fracture xray taught me that I still have an awful lot to learn if I want to stay on my feet for life.
I’m done with the pain of high fashion shoes, outside the very rare date. Given that my dates these days are rare, and on top of that they’re more likely to be hikes (when my feet heal), here’s what I’m doing:
I don’t plan to wear old lady shoes in my eighties. I do plan to be in my riding boots, hiking boots, running shoes, scuba flippers, kayaking neoprene boots.
In any case, if I plan to be upright and moving, it serves me not to defeat my purpose by beating up my feet.